Five cultural trends killing the church’s mission

There are forces and trends at work in our society that are killing local churches.

You’ve heard people say stuff like that before, right?

You know what comes next too, don’t you? Usually, it’s condemnations of the insidious effects of secularization — or sexularization as one Christian commentator calls it — descriptions of hostility toward religion, and warnings about persecution, the limiting of religious freedoms, and fraying family values. Oh, and great angst about people using the greeting, “Happy holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

But while some, albeit loud, voices are telling you to look over there, you might be missing some everyday cultural shifts occurring that are having a greater and unnoticed effect on the church. In fact, it is now becoming clear that these trends are killing the mission of the church far more effectively than the hot-button issues that get all the attention.

Here are five that come to mind:

 

1. THE DEATH OF CIVIL DISCOURSE

We live in a time of extreme polarization, where it seems we can’t discuss anything – especially theology and politics – without it devolving into conflict and name-calling. Church people aren’t immune to this. It seems we too have lost the capacity for civil discourse. Sadly, this results in a rapid slide toward uniformity of thought. Because we can’t even imagine what creative, respectful disagreement looks like, we feel we must eject anyone who expresses a dissenting opinion lest they threaten the harmony of the church.

This isn’t how it’s always been.

I became a Christian in a church that included both Calvinists and Arminians, dispensationalists and ammillennialists, complementarians and egalitarians. Sure, there were disagreements, but no one was ejected. In days gone by, churches that predominantly voted conservative could accommodate left-leaning voters in their midst, but no longer.

Now, if anyone differs on theology, politics, gender roles or sexuality, they are outed and expelled.

Today, I hear churches are creating statements or covenants that require their members to agree on a whole range of non-essential doctrines. We are sorting ourselves into increasingly strict congregations of like-minded people. This is the way cults behave, demanding unanimous allegiance to every jot and tittle of the group’s beliefs, but now it’s becoming churches as well.

And it happens on both sides of the debate. Jonathan Martin recently tweeted, “I thought nothing could be less interesting to me than conservative fundamentalism until I tasted progressive fundamentalism. I’m an equal opportunity hater of purity codes. Ideological purity tests are never life-giving no matter who administers them.”

How is this killing the mission of the church? Firstly, it means people are driving great distances to attend their preferred church, uprooting them from their neighborhood and nixing their capacity for local mission.

But secondly, the ideological homogeneity of individual local churches is contrary to the biblical teaching that sees the church as a herald, foretaste, and witness to the world, showing the world its transformed and liberated condition in submission to the gospel and kingdom of Christ.

This isn’t to say the church doesn’t have core doctrines to which all members must ascribe. But the church has long recognized that while some doctrines are essential, others remain in dispute and a difference of opinion doesn’t require one party to withdraw. The old saying, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity” needs to be heeded again.

Christians will disagree. But in a time of unparalleled polarization, we need the church to be an example to society of what it looks like to follow a process of confrontation, conversation, ethical and moral discernment, forgiveness and reconciliation. When done well it has the potential to enhance pastoral care, discipline, decision-making, and witness, and to serve as a model for society.

At the moment the church looks no different to congress, parliament, or the media, and people are rejecting it all.

 

2. THE COST OF HEALTHCARE

Another cultural trend killing the mission of the church is America’s dependence on employer-based health insurance. One pastor, Morgan Guyton recently revealed his health insurance premium is almost half the size of his salary for a plan that has a $6000 deductible. That’s simply unsustainable, and if premiums continue to rise, churches will have to close under the financial strain that places on them.

The solution we’re often told by those promoting bivocational or convocational ministry is for pastors to work part-time for the church and part-time in the neighborhood, which at first sounds pretty missional. But that would mean them letting go of their employer-based insurance plans.

Guyton says, “I would love to have the freedom to be an entrepreneur, but I have a chronic illness that will kill me without meds, so I cannot leave the institution.”

In other words, pastors are locked into uncreative, non-missional institutionalism by their health plans!!

 

3. THE DEMAND FOR EXCELLENCE

Who told us excellence should be our core value? It’s not found in New Testament teaching on the church. But just as society has yielded to a reliance on experts, so has the church. Our parents don’t teach us to prepare meals, Google does. We turn to YouTube to teach us how to do basic home repairs. We call in experts at the drop of a hat.

Likewise with church people. We enjoy Hillsong United on Spotify and listen to our favorite preachers’ podcasts. We won’t put up with anything half-baked or amateurish.

When we combine this with the kind of screwy ecclesiology that expects the paid church staff to do pretty much everything, we end up with a situation where local ministers are required to be Bible teachers, accountants, strategists, visionaries, computer techs, counselors, public speakers, worship directors, prayer warriors, mentors, leadership trainers and fundraisers.

But more than that, we expect them to be exceptional at it.

As churches have declined in size, and demands placed on paid staff have increased, we are seeing clergy burnout rates go through the roof. According to Barna Research, ninety percent of pastors say ministry is completely different to what they thought it would be. Seventy percent say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.

Christians are turning into connoisseurs, demanding greater and greater excellence, and finding it elsewhere if their local church can’t supply it. But once you outsource your need for exceptional preaching and worship to Podbean or Stitcher, and your need for connection is met using social media, you’re not interested in the messy, chaotic, uncontrollable nature of serving the poor and being a good neighbor to those in need.

 

4. THE END OF VOLUNTEERISM

Related to the obsession with excellence is the surprisingly quick death of volunteerism. Since volunteers are, by their very nature, not professionals they are considered second-rate. Churches started employing non-members to play in the church band, or perform admin tasks because either no one in the church would volunteer for these roles or they weren’t up to the required standard of excellence.

This has shifted the culture of the church further toward paying professionals to run our outreach programs like preschoolers groups, feeding centers, crisis accommodation units, youth programs, etc.

The quality of the program might have gone up, but engagement by congregations has dropped off completely. Today, many churches’ outreach activities are semi-professional parachurch agencies.

Instead of employing people to run programs, we need to recover our sense of what it means to be missional. David Fitch wrote, “Instead, lead people so as to commit to a place, regular (weekly) presence in a place, praying for this place, its people, so as to discern what God is doing by His Spirit, so as, when the time is ripe, to announce Jesus is Lord here, doing great things. Let us join him! This is ‘opening space for God to work” in our neighbourhoods, towns and villages.”

 

5. THE BURDEN OF REGULATION

Society has shifted in a way that requires education providers, community groups and businesses to have much stricter regulations on things like the occupational health and safety of staff, grievance processes, sexual harassment policies, child protection, disabled access, and so on. These are all good and necessary things. But the administrative burden is killing small churches, where the leadership teams are snowed by red tape as they fill in myriad forms, satisfy externally regulated processes, and try to marshal a largely voluntary organization to undertake required training.

l know of one church with around 50 members, all elderly, who are preparing to close down because no one can manage the administrative burden they’re under.

Recently, I planned a wine appreciation night for my church, an opportunity for church people to invite their friends to a low-key social event. I was told I needed to contact the local police to register the event, I needed council approval, and I needed to complete an authorized “responsible service of alcohol” course.

But not only is the burden administrative, it has implications for mission.

A recent Australian government enquiry into child sexual assault by clergy recommended that there be tighter regulations around who can be called a “pastor” and what minimum training is required for such a role. I understand why those recommendations were made but they make it very difficult for those churches that want to encourage all members to see themselves as missionaries (or sent ones) in their own neighborhoods. One of the fathers of the missional movement, Lesslie Newbigin was well known for talking about the declericalizing of the church. That is, the blurring of the line between clergy and lay people, and “ordaining” all people to mirror the work of God in the world.

I reiterate that I see why these regulations are in place and I’m not suggesting churches shirk them. But, together with the other trends I’ve outlined, they are conspiring to keep churches institutional and clergy-led. The gay lobby or the atheist society or whoever else they’re telling you is attacking the church aren’t impeding the church’s mission as much as these societal trends.

I’d really value any thoughts you have on how to address them.

 

 

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41 thoughts on “Five cultural trends killing the church’s mission

  1. no. 4 Volunteerism. I was stunned a few years back when I was told that the church is a “volunteer” organisation. During the previous 50 or so years it had never occurred to me. I think this has put a twist of how we view ourselves as a localized part of the “body of Christ”: we can only do so much! I’m not sure where that leaves us. The “church” is not meant to be like other voluntary organisations like the Bowls Club, CWA, etc. We have to look beyond that.

    1. We as individuals can only do so much – but the collective we (we are the church together) can change the world. I think the word volunteerism is problematic here. The real issue is the professionalization of service in our communities and churches. We are no longer asked to visit the sick in our communities – that is what we pay the caring ministries director for. We are no longer asked to serve in our Sunday schools – that is what we have a children’s ministry director for. It would behoove us all to remember that we are not called to hire others to be Jesus’ hands in the world – we are called to BE his hands in the world.

      1. I believe Jesus suggests we do both. The story of the good samariton mentions taking care of the injured man initially and then paying the innkeeper to continue his care.

  2. Thank you so much for putting what is happening so succinctly. Many of these thoughts have been going around in my head, you have helped me draw them together. I appreciate your directness and discernment of what is happening in out churches and communities.

  3. Hi Mike, I think you are dead on with these 5. I wonder if the identity of evangelical alliance with political ideology is not also a huge impediment to mission? I have found that the Christian Church is almost always linked to conservative politics, and as a result judgement is made and distance drawn. It might fit under Pt 1 but it seems to also have a life of its own.

    1. That’s definitely an issue, but I was focusing on external cultural forces that are acting ON the church, rather than on choices or decisions made BY the church. Cosying up to conservative politics is the church’s own doing.

      1. I understand that in the US the link of the church to conservative politics brings with it a whole swathe of hot button topics, but I would be interested in exploring the idea that rising secularism and technological change have been the root for several of the issues identified. There is a form of conservatism that doesn’t have to commit itself to any particular political identity but addresses these root causes.

        I think the rising secularism has devalued institutions (eg the church) in society other than the state. There has been a growing popularity in Australia to the mantra that “the government should fix it” whenever a problem arises. But government responses are limited to punitive (via increased regulation) or financial.

        For example, there has been a critique of how the Australian government has responded to people who lost jobs or houses due to the bushfire crisis. But then others (in the same town) have said that their uninsured house burned down just a month before these fires and they don’t get the government payout. Should everyone get a government payout or should none of them, and how do you decide?

        And what is the role of charities, like Red Cross, etc., in this situation? If it’s the government’s responsibility, aren’t they just getting in the way? Attracting dollars that should be administered through government agencies?

        My (limited) understanding of conservative politics is that there are a number of important “institutions” within our society/community – the family, the church, other non-profit agencies, the for-profit sector and the government (executive, legislative and judicial branches, to use one formula). Each institution plays an important role and a healthy society will support and encourage each of them.

        Therefore, one person’s uninsured house burns down, their family or their local church or their local community can rally around them to help them through the tragedy. When 1,000 houses are lost in one community, it is beyond the local community’s capacity to cope and the state and federal governments and large, even international, aid agencies step in to help.

        To say that it is not the government’s responsibility to help every individual whose house burns down is not to lack compassion. It is to recognise the limits of the government and value the contribution of the other institutions.

        A family, or a local church, can give assistance with much less paperwork than a government agency. But because we are expecting governments to regulate and control so many sectors of our community, the administrative burden has increased dramatically.

        It reminds me of a story I read in some paper a few years ago about an Eastern European nation that had successfully made the transition from communism to democracy. A few years later, a new president was elected and he was battling the remaining political forces of communism, especially some of the senior judges in the courts. But rather than strengthen the judicial system and make it more robust, he was trying to bypass the courts and lead by direct control, thus undermining the very democracy he was trying to protect!

        There is a loud voice in progressive politics that devalues (to put it mildly) family and sees the church and other institutions as threats to their agenda. It seeks to destroy institutions it views as practicing injustice. (This was the French Revolution’s solution to the problems in the church and the nobility.)

        Technological change has enabled governments to provide much closer and more extensive oversight of the various institutions, including churches. Compliance with all sorts of regulations is required and monitored. Compliance is the only way to avoid punitive action, which is why it feels negative and why it doesn’t feel like it contributes positively to the carrying out of the mission.

        [The possession of this advanced technology by a totalitarian regime like China is very concerning. Imagine if the old KGB had had the facial recognition software and the ability to monitor everyone’s communications that China has now!]

        There are many problems, even abuses, that institutions have been guilty of – financial mismanagement, sexual abuse, etc. – and so some regulation is necessary. The question we need to keep asking is, does this strengthen these institutions (i.e. family, local church, non-profit sector) or weaken them?

        Finally, on a different topic, I think the pursuit of excellence is closely related to the death of volunteerism. Many decades ago my grandfather helped build Camp Kedron on Sydney’s northern beaches. He came from the generation that survived the Great Depression and never threw anything away but knew how to find a use for everything. I loved hearing the stories about how God had provided the materials but that all the bathrooms were tiled with leftover tiles of all different designs. It was all pretty dodgy but kids went to camp and had a great time and heard the gospel. Now, if you go to the campsite, they’ve had to comply with all sorts of regulations about safety and, in order to attract people, it has to maintain a certain standard. All those old bathrooms have been fully renovated and now look amazing – but sterile. Only qualified tradies were involved in the construction. Supporters’ involvement has been much more limited – mostly to finances. Don’t get me wrong, good things still happen there. But it feels different.

  4. Perhaps the current form needs to die before it can be reborn?

    I can’t see these things happening voluntarily to be honest but I think this is how I would like to see church answer these problems. Idealistic and problematic as these reposes are..

    1. Dialogue instead of monologue. How can we have civil discourse if The professional does all the talking?

    2. Stop paying pastors a wage. And stop expecting them to perform, manage and administrate. Lose the building, drop the titles and live the function in the context of relationships as ‘tent makers’.

    3. Be excellent to each other not in front of each other. Dudes. *

    4. End volunteerism. And end programs. Eat together And look after each other instead. Invite others.

    5. De-institutionalize. Behave like a semi organised family lunch not a franchise. You can’t regulate being a father or a brother. Drop the pretense of hierarchy and wash each other’s feet.

    * ditch the degrees. Academia is problematic. It’s good to read and study. But stop outsourcing discipleship to colleges. Make it more like a trade, or even better, like martial arts training.

    1. Wow! Tremendous response! I’ve got a book for you but it looks like you’ve already read it.

      1. What’s the book, Jim? I’m interested.

        1. It’s the Book of Acts. 🙂

    2. Thanks for sharing your ideas. I agree wholeheartedly.

      1. James is spot on.

    3. Those solutions sound like a good place to start.

  5. I think the 24/7 work week has even a bigger impact than those that you mentioned Mike. For white collar professionals, a two income family where both partners are expected to be responsive to texts and emails on evenings and weekends, there’s just no energy left for church or volunteerism. And for hourly workers, variable scheduling means they could be working or sleeping on Sunday morning.

    I have observed also that job insecurity is playing a role in declining participation. It has happened to me more than once when I ask “so where is X–I haven’t seen her/him around lately,” I hear “oh, he got laid off and hasn’t found another job yet.” So at the very moment where a church network and community could be helpful, people do tend to withdraw out of a sense of shame maybe? That they can’t keep up their tithe, or that people know they lost their job? It could be either or both, but I do think churches should think more about how they can minister to those experiencing job insecurity or job loss.

    1. Jen, I wonder with the volunteerism, whether it is for seasons for some of us. And it sounds right now that it is not so much the season for you right now. But even saying that, it may be something as simple as doing supper for the youth group kids once a term or something else that doesn’t require a big commitment.
      However in my church, I am at the stage where I can volunteer for more things, and at least one offer last year, of something I was quite capable of doing, was knocked on the head by the clergy. I don’t think he wanted to give up any control.

  6. Excellent! I concur with adding the 24/7 workweek from Jen’s comments– and adding that two wages are necessary in most houses, which has huge volunteerism implications.

    I would also add the new religion of “Athletica,” which drains all hopes of faithful Sabbath keeping and strengthens the idea that “church” or “Christianity” is just one of many positive things that families can be engaged in (as opposed to the primary thing). This is certainly an external factor in that game and practices are now scheduled for Sunday mornings and cross-state jaunts are common-place– however, if Christian households would have said “no” to the coach a generation ago, we wouldn’t have this issue. In that way, it is of our own making (at least tacitly).

  7. I wonder if the style/type/form of church is a big factor in how much these will impact.
    Mainstream church as we’ve come to know it (paid staff, centralised, program-oriented, with a focus on a Sunday service in a certain building) will be hit quite hard by these things.
    A more free-flowing view of church (like in Acts, or the underground church) may be much less affected. Mike’s posted about dinner-church before – these kinds of expressions may be an important part of the future for God’s church to thrive.

  8. Neoliberalism mindset, both economic and political, have transformed our society and church in ways we haven’t really understood. 1. Consumer Culture – we’ve been converted to the idea that we can pay professionals to do our jobs as humans ie to Care, for our babies (pre-school education centres), for our Youth (professionalisation of youth work), for our elderly etc etc – we’ve been sold the lie that we need a high lifestyle of ‘stuff’, oversea holidays, new car, new house forcing us to work longer, leaving now time for volunteerism to care for ourselves, family, neighbourhood and the poor.
    2. Competitiveness in the Care Sector – the consumer culture has made us competitive, converting humans into clients, demanding professionalism to win the next contract and high regulation to keep the standards. This has come at a huge cost where we can longer see and reach out to another human – fave to face – because they are human.
    3, Individualism – we’ve allowed neoliberalism to dictate our world view, it’s now about ME and no longer about WE. The Collective Good has been lost.

    1. Really insightful comment.

    2. I agree, but I think it is more than the result of one thing. Neoliberalism is one force. Technology change is another. Globalism is another. Etc. Etc.

  9. Great post.
    I have thought about a number of these issues.

    With regards to child protection, we must avoid the pitfall of thinking we can reduce the administrative overhead by adjusting the mode. We may be tempted to think training/certification etc is unnecessary because our ministry focusses on missional-living or it is a house-based, street-based, recreation-based, workplace-based ministry etc. If anything, we need to integrate child-protection into all of these from the get-go.

    The question is, how can we ease the administrative burden while keeping child protection central? Here are a few thoughts:
    – Churches and their denominational bodies fostering discussion on how each ministry mode affects the implementation of child protection.
    – Denominational bodies providing ongoing consultancy for individual ministries to meet requirements.
    – Churches funding this process as a priority.

    1. Totally agree.

  10. My observations of Aussie churches (with a few exceptions) support a few of your observations but I wonder if others mentioned are more a reflection of the US church. The idea of bringing in paid outsiders to run anything at all, sounds ridiculous to me. And I am a member of a very large church in the east of Melbourne. We rely on volunteers from the musicians to outreach teams to kids’ church, etc.

    There is certainly a push towards “excellence” in the music department, but we are all vols nonetheless. I like to think we are doing our very best to maintain authenticity and avoid pretentiousness (something I have observed from time to time).

    On the subject of the loss of civil discourse, yes, I completely agree. Social media certainly has played a role here, but perhaps it is a reflection of the path society is on – a sign of the illness rather than the cause.

    1. If your observation is different from mine that doesn’t make mine “ridiculous.” Your church might not employ non-members to run things, but it is well known that churches across the country employ people to run op shops, employment programs, soup kitchens, playgroups, crisis accommodation centres, student housing, cafes, as well as to work in the church office, to do maintenance, and even to play in the church band. As for you wondering if the things I wrote about “are more a reflection of the US church”, most of the readers of this blog are American. The next biggest group of readers are Aussies, then Brits, Germans, South Africans and Koreans. So I try to write in a way that is inclusive of a more global readership.

      1. Forgive me Mike, I didn’t mean suggest that your observation was ridiculous – poor choice of words. Rather the idea of bringing in a “Pro” to run outreach (e.g.) seems utterly foreign to my idea of what the church should be.

        Keep up the good work, mate.

  11. Warning: some re-imagination may be required.
    Think smaller and simpler. Multiply, not get bigger. You’ll see why as you read on.
    Do a DCPI house church planting training. It will help you deconstruct many of the institutional things and pare down to the minimum.

    1. Civil discourse
    When you’re smaller, you relate-with-people rather than theorise-with-ideologies. Less social media, more actual socialising.
    Your church member is not your enemy, the problem is your enemy. Work together against the problem.
    Use DAPMID thinking grids to gather the relevant ideas together in segments, not combatively in binary tennis. Then even if you still don’t agree, you’ll appreciate the differences much more.

    2. Cost of Healthcare
    Move to Australia? Get a different job and do mission as a volunteer? We don’t have to maximise our personal profits, live on less… I live on half what colleagues do. Pray about it.

    3. Excellence
    Train people to be less of a consumer and more of a contributor.
    Multiplying smaller groups makes discipleship look a lot like training trainees to do discipleship as trainers training trainees… etc. So a higher percentage of people become contributors. From youth upwards.
    And smaller is relational, which trumps excellence. Ie, it doesn’t matter if the presentation is not perfect because it’s my mate having a go – so I’m less inclined to criticise and more motivated to receive whatever he is trying to give. Better learning ensues.
    Use Discovery Bible Study methods around Scripture. Higher participation and active learning results in better learning.
    So you actually get better learning without excellent teaching, because you have higher openness to learn, more participation and active learning. I’m a preacher, but I preach very little in favour of active learning discussions around the ministry of the Word. Plenary sessions make sure the key content is not missed.

    4. Volunteerism
    Reconfiguring for smaller, simpler, relational, transferable, training, multiplying groups… obviously translates to increased participation, ie volunteerism.

    5. Regulation
    Get an auspicing body to deal with the red tape. This is a role for denominations which I have been suggesting since 2000. We used a parachurch mission organisation instead because the denomination couldn’t figure out how to measure us if we didn’t have a building, members, or staff positions. But the parachurch organisation makes us accountable to keep the focus on mission, holds the bank account we use, theological parameters, and we come under their auspices for insurance, duty of care training and accreditation, etc. We volunteers just do the training and fill out the forms they give us, get the relevant checks and cards. Newbies joining us are not entrusted with overseeing others until they too have undergone such checks. So it all works. And with a minimum of pain for the volunteers actually leading and doing the mission.

  12. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your analysis of negative factors killing the church’s mission. However, I think we are missing a bigger issue.

    Your points all relate to the common understanding of what is meant by the word ‘church’. That is the long standing Sunday-Centric parish/local church which seeks to get people into the weekend service by a variety of ‘outreach’ activities. While there are glorious exceptions (although with specific not easily replicable reasons for them) it is a model that has been failing for decades.

    While I agree that your five ‘cultural trends’ are issues to think about, I have now argued for several years that the standard model of ‘church’ is now hopelessly inappropriate for the current 21st century missional task.

    Given the current and ongoing cultural ferment, the belief that a church model that primarily developed for the pastoral maintenance of existing 17th century Christian congregations in a Christianized European society, can continue to be the main vehicle for the equivalent of ‘Mission Africa’ to its own culture would seem to be highly improbable to say the least. Current attendance and membership trends strongly confirm that improbability.

    I am convicted that it is not trying to improve the current model that is required, rather what is needed is ‘Something Completely Different’ (SCD). I think James’ comment is highly pertinent.

    My argument for this is far too long to put here, but I have written a booklet called Something Completely Different If people want to read it they can download it from the Resources tab on the unboundedchurch.com site.

    Thanks again for your efforts in promoting thinking!

    Martin J Bragger
    Unbounded Church

  13. I’m a 40 year old priest working in rural New Zealand. What is disheartening to me today is:-

    1. Boomers who hate change and want to own their priest and use their tithing as a way of trying to control their priest. It’s very transactional and manipulative. Boomers invented consumer-Christianity, their kids have perfected it.

    2. People under the age of 40 who want to keep all their options open and not commit to anything that might look like discipleship.

    3. The great cultural forces at work appear to be
    – have fun
    – make money, spend it
    – don’t commit, try not to hurt people
    – politics is a new religion, be political – don’t think any deeper than just politics

    Regarding civil discourse or the lack of it then Jonathan Haight’s work on tribalism and honour-based societies is very good and should be compulsory reading.

  14. .1 The death of civil discourse
    .2 The cost of healthcare
    .3 The demand for excellence
    .4 The end of volunteerism
    .5 The burden of regulation

    Numbers 2 and 5 are administrative issues that can be addressed as a large group pooling our resources.

    Numbers 1, 3 and 4 are about what happens in your house (local church). Each individual believer has to be passionate about their own faith.

    Here’s a truth we must never forget – when the church was born (Acts 2 – or there abouts) they were given an impossible task and the entire world was hostile to what they were doing…yet they succeeded! Correction, God succeeded…the G factor.

    Church, let’s not forget the G factor.

  15. I would also add 6) lack of rootedness.

    People move for school, work, retirement at the drop of a hat. This brings challenge to longterm relationships, cultural awareness, service in the community, leadership, etc. etc. etc. And, it shows that, culturally, where we live doesn’t matter.

    There are people in my neighborhood I’ve started building relationships who are moving, and we have just now started to build a friendship.

    Clearly, these issues are interrelated, and I imagine that our lack of rootedness affects some of these 5 trends:

    1) Civil Discourse. When people don’t have the long-term relationships and friendships, it’s easier to see them as strangers, as other, and as opponents. When you first understand each other as neighbors and friends, we have the relational bandwidth to have serious disagreement.

    2) Cost of Healthcare. When you have friends who act as family, people are healthier and you have caretakers you don’t have to pay. (A stretch, but I’m sure there’s an article somewhere about how deep friendships and proximity to family reduce healthcare costs).

    3) The Demand for Excellence. I feel like the longer you know someone, the less “excellence” you require from them. If I’m going to a church to the first time because I recently moved, I generally want to make sure that the kids program is “excellent” and that everyone behaves professionally, and my kids want to be a part of it. However, when I know people well and over a long period of time, I don’t really care about these things very much. If volunteer is giving a sermon in a room of people they know well, then they don’t have to stress as much about it being perfect.

    4) End of Volunteerism. It is SO MUCH EASIER to volunteer when you know the people you’re working with. And, it’s easier to recruit new volunteers.

    5) The Burden for Regulation. OK, maybe not every point relates. For better or worse, the longer your relationship with someone, the more trust there is. And, the more trust there is the more “flexible” regulations become. Maybe not a good thing… I’m just thinking off the top of my head.

    PERHAPS rootedness is a way we as the church can combat these cultural forces.

    I’m just thinking off the top of my head here… what do you think? I’d love to hear your comments.

  16. Kia ora Mike, Thank you for putting your thoughts into words and sharing them. I found this to be a stimulating and interesting blog. Perhaps a sub-part of the demand for excellence is the infiltrating societal trend of delighting, desiring, demanding even to be entertained. The objective shifts from everyone contributing, participating, playing their part to a more subtle separation into roles of passive presence and performance. As you mention, the demand for excellence can reinforce this by preferring the involvement of experts not amateurs, which can maybe unwittingly eliminate room for humility. Perhaps related to this is the pressure to offer and run a range of programs for this or that, creating busy-ness in place of being.
    Thoughts to address this… my thoughts are very basic due to having negligible knowledge or experience on this. I have a sense of the church needing to get back to basics. The underground church comes to mind where I imagine time and energy are expended only on the essentials. Anything that is superfluous isn’t considered. Its existence is counter-cultural.

    1. As far as entertainment goes Neil Postman observed back in 1985 that this would become the main form by which we took in information but churches just folliwed rhe trend. And as far as excellence goes in music many of our church “stars” may be technically brilliant at what they do but my question is always “does the music serve the liturgy and the people” or just some notion of performance. And while there may be difficulties with “the academy” in the training of church leaders, we have become much more focused on performance criteria than on “body of Christ” thinking and pastoral caring.

  17. I’ve been following all the insightful comments on the blog. I might suggest Dr. Jerry Sittser’s new book Resilient Faith. He writes as a Historian studying the “Third Way’ in early Acts, a family of people (Christians) no longer practicing Jews or worshipping Roman gods/politics. He describes a formal deprogramming, in a sense, strict discipleship that occurred to break individuals from the habits that were formed beforehand in the other “two ways”. Strict discipleship succeeded in getting them fully immersed in a whole new way of worship/living/relating.
    Perhaps instead of turning away from all formal (one might say ridged) ways of doing church (let’s hang out and have a beer) a structured type of deprogramming from consumerism, competitiveness, and “I” focus mentality (as Dave Tims pointed out) could be attempted/explored? What does it look like to implement a very structured discipleship plan in a setting that embraces the missional neighboring/community movement?

  18. I’d love to connect with you about your second point and how it may relate to where I work, Remodel Health in Indianapolis, IN. I’ve been working with local churches to help with this exact issue using innovative software and service. Over the past 5 years, we’ve helped them save $11M+ to get back into their ministry budgets. Would love to connect and hear your thoughts on a partnership!

  19. Mike
    I appreciate your analysis, & agree that the five issues you have noted are part of a wider range of factors that are impeding the church’s mission. Some of the above comments identify other relevant issues.
    I understand you railing against regulation (#5), but government regulation is almost always imposed in a reactionary way after events that have caused someone harm, or even death. (Child-safe church policies are a good example – we now have to build fences so that kids can’t wander onto the road. These policies have been introduced at significant cost to the church, but have probably saved lives.) The aim is to protect, even where the imposed process is onerous. Its the reality of the world we live in, so we have to find ways to deal with it – or open ourselves to litigation when someone does get hurt.
    Another e.g. has emerged through the ‘fresh expressions of church’ movement & resultant de-clericalisation, which holds great promise for the future church. The downside is that it is producing church leaders who have not been socialised into the ‘professional’ aspect of the role of pastor, & are not properly aware of the necessity for professional boundaries with people in the pew. Their lack of training, as well as the inadequate level of training and scrutiny of those who are already ordained & in ministry, place people at risk, so the (Aust) Royal Commission has called for legislation that seeks to help minimise that risk.
    Speaking of which, the RC has exposed our underbelly. We have crapped in our nest & where we should have been leading the way, we have been found to be lagging way behind community expectations, not to mention Kingdom-honouring behaviour. We – the church in Australia – deserve what we got, & demonstrated that we need much more robust governance. Maybe other jurisdictions around the world can learn from our experience
    Joe (above) has mentioned the G factor. The church has faced enormous adversity through the last 2000 years – much it worse than government regulation – and we are still here. Christ is still, and will continue, to build his church.
    Thanks for your reflections.
    Greg

    1. Good points about the downside of ’emerging’ church trends particularly in relation to ‘non-trained’ leadership. It is important for professional approaches to inter-personal relationships. It is also important that the ‘glow of success’ doesn’t result in less accountability over big issues like governance and doctrine.

  20. Re: DEATH OF CIVIL DISCOURSE – I’ve just come across a Christian vlogger who’s become friends with an Atheist vlogger after acting like a decent human, finding common ground and listening to his story. You can see some of the evidence in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drkEVxzQXxU&t=488s

  21. In short we want churches to be Restaruants rather than picnics. Professional services that we can complain about , pay for, appoint more off etc.
    As you don’t have volunteers in restaurants it makes it easy to not be vested in one and to change restaurants when menus change.

  22. Mike, you have this habit of ‘hitting the nail on the head’ and of verbalizing issues with which many struggle.
    I remember Rick Warren once saying that the larger you get (the Church), the smaller you must become (small groups). It seems to me that it could now be time for a change in Church methodology, in that should we become smaller (home church?) in order to grow larger?
    Most of the issues you raised would then no longer be, or would be automatically dealt with in the context of a small group.
    Just a thought.

  23. Trends bringing the church back to life: Physically distancing during a pandemic, Zoom calling the dying, texting with the distraught, volunteering with the government to feed the hungry, donating blood for the sick, picking up Perscription’s for the elderly, ordering delivery from local businesses, speaking hope for a better future, and learning from our twitter feed how to actually be used by God to be good news. .

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